An Ethical Issue
An Ethical Issue
Euthanasia is a hotly debated ethical issue these days, and there are certain arguments for and against its practice. Arguments against euthanasia are usually based on the sanctity of life, and such arguments are often compatible with religion, but arguments for euthanasia concern individual liberty, and a desire to prevent more suffering than is absolutely necessary.
In this paper, I intend to address arguments for and against euthanasia, and explain why it is an ethical issue, and conclude that euthanasia, in some cases, should be permissible. Euthanasia is defined as the painless termination of someone’s life, but the ethical dilemma surrounding the topic has to do with whether or not it is alright to euthanize someone who is in a vegetative state, and can no longer think for him or herself, and whether or not assisted suicide is morally acceptable.
The first of these scenarios would entail someone, such as a family member or physician, ending the life of someone who is in great pain following an accident, but cannot express their own wishes (whether or not they wish to remain on a feeding tube, or on life support) because of physical body damage, and this is known as passive euthanasia.
The other issue, the one of physician assisted suicide, entails someone like a physician assisting someone who is in great pain, but not in need of life support, in committing suicide, maybe by administering a lethal dose of medication, to alleviate the patient’s pain, and this is known as active euthanasia. Both active and passive euthanasia are highly debated ethical issues, as they concern the value of life, and whether or not people are justified in prolonging a life of anguish, or terminating a life of misery.
Recently, there have been many controversial cases of euthanasia, or its possibility in cases where it seems necessary to some, such as the cases of Doctor Kevorkian, and Terry Schiavo. The main ethical issues in the cases where Dr. Kevorkian euthanized (performed physician-assisted suicide on) some of his patients regards whether or not a patient should have the potential to decide his or her own fate, and then whether or not a physician should be held accountable for supporting, and aiding in a patient’s decision to end his or her life.
This fundamentally boils down to the question of whether or not someone can choose to end their life when that person is in constant pain, but the issue would be complicated by the efforts needed in determining who is in enough pain to be permitted to actively end his or her life, which brings up the question of why everyone cannot choose to terminate their lives.
And patients in hospitals do have the right to passively kill themselves, by starving, or refusing treatment, so in some cases, when a patient is prepared to take such measures to end his or her life, it would seem morally permissible for a physician to painlessly facilitate that patient’s suicide. In the case of someone’s euthanasia by the pulling of a feeding tube or the termination of life support, the ethical dilemma surrounds the family, or physician’s authority, when it comes to forcing the person who has brain damage to forfeit medical attention.
A patient who is not in a vegetative state can refuse treatment, as that is not actively killing him or herself, but the question in the case of passive euthanasia is whether or not anyone other than the patient who might or might not refuse treatment due to severe pain if he or she were not in a vegetative state would have the authority to pull the plug on that person’s behalf, if the patient had not made his or her desired wishes clear.
Religion plays a huge roll in helping people to believe that euthanasia should not be morally permissible, as most religions include some aspect about the sanctity of life, and based on that, they discourage suicide or killing in any form. Christianity in particular regards suicide as a sin, and that makes it difficult for people who wish to die because they are in too much pain, but their religion preaches against suicide.
It is even against the law to commit suicide, but lately there have been questions coming out about whether people who are intensely pained by there illness should be exempt from this law, and whether or not doctors would be allowed to aid these suffering patients by providing them with lethal pills, or putting them to sleep by giving them extra doses of their medication.
This is active euthanasia, where a patient, or doctor, or the combination of the two, take action to terminate life, rather than let it painfully continue for a long time, as the patient takes medicine and food, or making it drag on for a short, immensely painful period in the case where a patient refuses medication and food. For the most part, any argument against euthanasia must somehow be based on a view that life is sacred, and should never be sacrificed, at any cost, even when there is great pain to be dealt with if the life is prolonged.
“Religious people don’t argue that we can’t kill ourselves, or get others to do it,” a BBC article about religion and ethics reports. “They know that we can do it because God has given us free will. Their argument is that it would be wrong for us to do so. They believe that every human being is the creation of God, and that this imposes certain limits on us. Our lives are not only our lives for us to do with as we see fit.
To kill oneself, or to get someone else to do it for us, is to deny God, and to deny God’s rights over our lives and his right to choose the length of our lives and the way our lives end. ” This summarizes a religious viewpoint that holds that euthanasia is not morally permissible. But for people who are not religious, a more basic argument in favor of euthanasia seems to arise, and that is simply whether or not people should be allowed to forfeit their lives if they are completely unsatisfied with them, or are severely pained by them.
So, that might concern a simple case where someone is slowly dying of a terrible disease, and his medication deters the pain to some degree, but he is still miserable. Should that person be allowed to actively (or request that a physician actively) end his life, because he would rather forfeit his life than live on in pain and suffering? That seems to be a highly controversial issue, and from this perspective, it seems that euthanasia should be supported, at least to some degree.
This could easily be a pro-euthanasia argument, as the person in pain has the right to forego medication, and refuse food and other life-sustaining attributes, which would lead to the patient’s death after a period of maximal pain, but the patent, without euthanasia, would not have the right to forfeit his life without enduring the pain from the scenario where he refuses treatment if active euthanasia is not permissible. “Some experts are gunning for a compromise.
Zhu Tiezhi, a media commentator,” A China Daily article reports, “suggests the right-to-die prerequisites: the applicant must have a terminal illness that causes agonizing pain, and the diagnosis must be verified by at least two doctors; the applicant must be in a clear state of mind when he applies for it, and the application process should be repeated at least twice to make sure it is not a spur-of-the-moment thought. ” This article was written after a patient who had throat cancer jumped out of a window to end his life after he was told that physicians were unable to assist him in doing so.
So it seems that in certain cases, euthanasia is a more humane way for one to end his or her life than to manufacture a way him or herself. “Our job is to save lives, and we don’t have the right to mercy killing,” said an official at the Changsha hospital,” an official at the hospital in the Hunan Province of China, where the man committed suicide, stated. But in certain cases, lives may only be prolonged, painfully, for a short time, so euthanasia would then represent a painless way of alleviating a suffering patient’s agony.
“Chantal Sebire knows she’s forcing people to make an agonizing decision, but agony is something she knows far too much about,” Bruce Crumley includes in his article, entitled Making a Case for Euthanasia. “The 52- year-old Dijon schoolteacher suffers from a rare disease that has left her disfigured by facial tumors, which will also damage her brain over time and eventually kill her. Her demand that French political leaders loosen laws against euthanasia has been rebuffed, so Sebire now awaits a judge’s decision on whether existing legislation allows doctors to assist her in ending her pain-racked life.
‘I no longer accept this enduring pain, and this protruding eye that nothing can be done about,’” Crumley writes. And unfortunately, the legal system of most countries do not recognize euthanasia as a permissible alternative to prolonged suffering, which causes many to live on in pain, wishing that they could terminate their lives instead of continuing on in agony. This seems like a reasonable right that everyone should be entitled to exercise if the time is right.
People should not be forced to, because of the legal issues surrounding the issue, and anyone (such as a physician) involved, be forced to live on in agony when they could end it all by euthanasia. It seems that laws forbidding active euthanasia, or mercy killings, is based on the principle that all life is sacred, and that even extreme suffering should be fundamentally imposed on people if it could occur without their death. So death is legally regarded as impermissible when it is in any way caused by man. But what about the death penalty?
There is a scenario where the government does not view life as the most sacred institution, so if exceptions are allowed, why not provide one that alleviates the constant suffering and agonies that plague people who have certain medical conditions, but are not allowed to self-terminate? “A French woman suffering from an incurable and disfiguring cancer was found dead on Wednesday, two days after a court rejected her request for medical assistance to help end her life, a source close to the government said,” an article from reuters.
com reported of the woman who had petitioned to have a physician assist her in suicide. “Chantal Sebire, 52, whose face was swollen and distorted by a rare tumour in her sinuses, won heavy media coverage and the compassion of many French people in her bid to set a legal precedent for patients like her seeking to end their suffering. A court in the eastern city of Dijon ruled on Monday that Sebire could not have a doctor help her die because it would breach both the code of medical ethics and the law, under which assisted suicide is a crime.
” But it seems that the code of medical ethics should make exceptions in certain cases of euthanasia. Forcing someone to die slowly in accordance with some debilitating disease is in no way more ethical or more humane than permitting that person to terminate his or her life painlessly. “After nine years, 130 deaths, and six trials, ‘Dr. Death’ Jack Kevorkian finally faces jail time for killing a desperate man who came to him for ‘help’ and found only death,” Liz Townsend writes in her article, Kevorkian’s Nine-Year Euthanasia Crusade Leads to Murder Conviction.
“Thomas Youk’s death by lethal injection, administered directly by Kevorkian and nationally televised on 60 Minutes, led to a second-degree murder conviction March 26, but Youk was only one of many people who died to advance Kevorkian’s euthanasia crusade. ‘We believe the verdict should have been premeditated murder, but we’re very elated by the second-degree verdict,’ said Diane Coleman of the disability-rights group Not Dead Yet, according to the Associated Press. ‘We want to see Jack Kevorkian imprisoned for life.
It’s clear he has no respect for people with disabilities. ’” But is assisted suicide really a violation of the rights of someone who is disabled? In cases of physician-assisted suicide, the patient would not think so. A violation of the rights of the disabled would be ignoring a plea for assisted suicide, which would end pain and suffering. But perhaps the most basic argument for permissability of euthanasia, in at least extreme cases, should be in regards to everyone’s personal liberty.
By that argument, people may say that everyone should have the right to do as they please when it concerns their own body. But an argument against personal liberty might state that similar arguments would allow drug use and other impermissible activities. So What is to be done? It seems that the best thing to do would be to, when physician’s can gauge someone’s mental aptitude, allow them to actively euthanize themselves, or assist him or her in doing so, if the patient is mentally competent, and wishes to end his or her life.
And in the case of a family pulling the plug on someone (passive euthanasia) it should be permissible at all times if the patient had previously expressed a desire to die rather than remain on life support.
Appleton, Michael et al. At Home with Terminal Illness: A Family Guide to Hospice in the Home. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1995. Barnard, C Good Life, Good Death – a Doctor’s Case for Euthanasia and Suicide.
Hbk 146pp Prentice-Hall 1980. Bold and provocative work by the famous heart surgeon. Battin, Margaret P. The Death Debate: Ethical Issues in Suicide. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1996. The Law Society & the British Medical Association. Assessment of Mental Capacity – Guidance for Doctors & Lawyers. Pbk 152pp British Medical Association 1995. Randall, F, & Downie, R. Palliative Care Ethics – A Good Companion Pbk, 202pp Oxford University Press 1996.
University/College: University of Chicago
Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter
Date: 1 January 2017
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